Under the rubric of fighting terrorism, President Ronald Reagan proposed serious threats to our civil liberties in 1984 which were ignored by the media. The little-known threats were contained in four anti-terrorist bills sponsored by the president. Under the guise of fighting sabotage and assassination, the bills would criminalize domestic opposition to U.S. intervention in the Third World and authorize FBI investigations of legal political activity. The most threatening of the bills is called the Prohibition Against the Training or Support of Terrorist Organizations Act of 1984, (H.R.5613 & S.2626), a loosely worded, vague document which makes American citizens liable to criminal penalties for exercising their constitutional rights as guaranteed under the First Amendment. The most damaging portions of the proposed Act were offensive to a few senators and representatives who sent the legislation back to the administration demanding that certain portions be clarified. They included:
— The Secretary of State would have unilateral power to determine that a group or government is “terrorist,” based on their “acts or likely acts;” forbids anyone charged under it from arguing that any organization or government on the list was wrongly included;
— Make it a crime to act in concert with, train, or serve in any organization designated by the Secretary of State to be an intelligence agency or armed force of any foreign government, faction, or international terrorist group;
— Prohibit any logistical, mechanical, maintenance or similar support services to the armed forces, or any intelligence agency, or their agents, of any foreign government, faction or international terrorist group designated as such by the Secretary of State.
While the legislation did not pass last year, it is expected to be reintroduced this year. Meanwhile, the FBI apparently isn’t waiting for it to be passed. Visitors to Nicaragua have been asked about terrorist contacts, church groups aiding Central American refugees have been questioned about bringing guerrillas into this country and members of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador have been told that their organization is involved in terrorist activities.
Equally important, Reagan’s proposed legislation is not new; past presidents have had similar legislation enacted immediately prior to America’s entry into a war:
1917 (Wilson): Espionage act — hundreds went to prison for opposing America’s entry into WWI; 1940 (Roosevelt): Smith Act — more Americans went to prison for opposing our entry into WWII; 1950 (Truman): Internal Security Act — even more Americans went to prison in protest of military intervention in Korea.
If successful, Reagan’s efforts to curtail the people’s right to dissent, could easily pave the way for our intervention in Central America or elsewhere.
GUARDIAN, 7/25/84, “If These Laws Pass, Watch out,” and 8/22/84, “FBI ‘terrorizes’ the Solidarity Movement,” by Eleanor Stein and Michael Ratner; WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/27/84, “White House Seeks to Broaden Authority to Thwart Growing Terrorism Threat.”